Monday, 23 June 2014

Weird Weekend, "Tooth of enigmatic origin" crowdsourced identification

Archives de Zoologie Experimentale et Generale, 4th series, volume VII, October 1907 (for non-commericial purposes)

Copyright Horniman Museum & Gardens, used with permission. THe specimen at the bottom is accession no. NH.A3008

The "Tooth of enigmatic origin" in the drawing at the top was found in the ivory market at Addis Ababa in 1904 by Maurice de Rothschild's East Africa expedition will be the subject of my talk at Weird Weekend 2014 this August. See the programme for Weird Weekend 2014.

I'm on at 12 noon on Sunday 17 August, so if you're going, don't go getting too much of a hangover on Weird Saturday. For background, see my short article on the "enigmatic" tooth here.

My talk is down on the programme as "Baron Maurice de Rothschild's dionthere caper". At the time CFZ director Jon Downes and I put together the "pitch" for the talk, an article in the journal La Nature from 1910 suggested the "tusk of enigmatic origin" resembled that of a long-extinct group of elephant relatives, the dinotheres. Closer examination shows a misidentification may have been at work. Jon and I agreed to keep the title, it may not be a dinothere anymore but it's still a caper.

The original title for the talk had the wrong Rothschild - Walter, he of the zoo at Tring, and not Maurice (better known for racehorses, his art collection and being a Senator of the Republic of France.) As I plough slowly through the 50+ pages of the original French that is "Tooth of enigmatic origin", it has become apparent that Walter Rothschild does feature after all. He expressed enthusiasm for Maurice's find, and reportedly gave a presentation on this to the Zoological Society of London in September 1905. The ZSL library are on the case, but it's all still on card indexes so it'll take a while.

As a result of a Twitter appeal some crowdsourced identification of the "enigmatic" tooth has come in from three zoologists and a professor of paleonotology. I don't want to give away too much away ahead of the Weird Weekend talk, except to reproduce here, by kind permission of Paolo Viscardi, natural history curator at the Horniman Museum & Gardens, a photo (above) of their specimen of a walrus tusk (bottom of photo) compared to a hippo tooth (top of photo).

Meanwhile, there was a report on Maurice de Rothschild's East Africa expedition in book form, Voyage du Baron Maurice de Rothschild en Afrique orientale 1904–1905, and a very rare English language edition, Maurice de Rothschild’s Journey to East Africa 1904–1905. This is so rare that the British Library don't have a copy, the only place that has it is the Rothschild Archive in the City of London.

(Fortean Times are interested in a short "Forum" piece on this.)

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